Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Story Behind The Song

The lyrics to this Christmas carol were written 100 years before the tune we associate with it today. Neither the author of the lyrics, Charles Wesley, nor the composer of the tune, Felix Mendelssohn, would have approved of combining the two works.

Amy Grant A Christmas AlbumWesley wrote the words and published them in 1739 in “Hymns And Sacred Poem” with the title “Hymn For Christmas-Day.” Wesley suggested a slow and solemn tune would best fit his lyrics. He thought the tune for another of his well-known hymns, “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today,” would be appropriate.

George Whitefield, a colleague of Wesley’s changed the first verse, from “Hark!  How all the welkin (Heaven) rings, Glory to the King of Kings,” to the words we sing today. He published that version in the 1754 “Collection Of Hymns For Social Worship.”

In 1840 Felix Mendelssohn wrote a cantata to commemorate the invention of movable type printing by Johann Gutenberg. Mendelssohn believed this particular piece of music was unsuitable for sacred lyrics. English musician William H. Cummings must not have gotten that message, because he adapted a portion of that music in 1855 and paired it with the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and we’ve been singing it to that tune ever since.

Amy Grant included a version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” on her very first Christmas album, the 1983 “A Christmas Album.”

We looked at the story behind “Away In A Manger” last week.

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